Tooth Abscess: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

tooth abscess

A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus that is commonly caused by bacterial infections ¹. It forms around the infected tooth's root and needs treatment to avoid its spread beyond the jaw. Also referred to as dental abscess, the condition can cause severe pain, which can even affect the ear and neck sometimes ². It can quickly turn into a severe condition if left untreated. Learn more about the different types of tooth abscess, its symptoms and how to deal with it.

Types of tooth abscess

There are different types of tooth abscess that happen for various reasons and appear in different areas around the tooth. The most common types of dental abscess are periapical abscess, periodontal abscess, and gingival abscess. A periapical abscess occurs at the tip of the root, while the periodontal abscess appears on the gum area next to the root of a tooth. A periapical tooth abscess is commonly a consequence of dental cavities left untreated or an injury. It can also spread and reach the surrounding tissue and bone¹. Finally, gingival abscess is the type that appears on the gum and not necessarily close to teeth roots.

What are tooth abscess symptoms?

Throbbing pain around the tooth or in the gums is the main symptom of suffering from a dental abscess. The pain can hit suddenly and even worsen with time if the condition is left untreated. Here are other symptoms that are associated with abscessed teeth:

  1. Toothache or pain that radiates to the jaw, ear or neck.
  2. Pain when chewing or biting.
  3. Swollen gums.
  4. Foul taste and bad breath.
  5. Tooth and gum sensitivity.
  6. Fever.
  7. Swollen lymph nodes - under the jaw or in the neck.
  8. Increased pain when lying down.
  9. Difficulty swallowing or breathing.
  10. Sensitivity to hot and cold beverages.
  11. Swelling around the face or cheek.
  12. A pimple-like bump on your gum.¹

Tooth abscess causes

Teeth are hard on the outside and filled with a pulp made up of connective tissue, nerves and blood vessels inside. It can get infected for many reasons, including deep cavity, tooth decay, periodontal disease or gum infections.² Infection can also result from having a cracked tooth or an injury from previous dental work. Infections can destroy the pulp and lead to a dental abscess, which then can spread to several spots by travelling through the bone. In the case of a periapical abscess, the bacteria pass into the pulp, which is the soft inner part of your tooth. A periodontal abscess usually results from gum disease or injury, whereas gingival abscess can occur due to a foreign body like small hard leftover foods or toothbrush bristle in the gum.

There are also many risk factors that can increase a person's risk of dental abscess:

  • Poor dental hygiene: Not following a proper dental care routine can lead to tooth decay, gum disease and tooth abscess. Following a three-step routine, twice a day including using a mouthwash is necessary to prevent teeth and gum-related diseases. ³
  • Dry mouth: Dry mouth is a condition that can increase your risk of tooth decay; it is usually a side effect of certain medications or other issues. 
  • Consuming foods high in sugar: Eating foods rich in sugar or drinking sweetened beverages can significantly contribute to tooth abscess. Instead, try to focus your diet on healthier foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. ³

Tooth abscess treatment and complications

Dental abscess should not be ignored or left untreated since it does not go away without treatment. Even when it ruptures and the pain decreases, it still needs attention and treatment because if the abscess is not drained, the infection can then spread to other areas like your jaw, neck or head ². You have to visit your dentist as soon as possible if you have a fever, swelling or trouble breathing and swallowing. These symptoms can be an indication of the infection spreading.

How is dental abscess treated?

Abscessed tooth treatment focuses on clearing up the infection and relieving the pain caused by it. The dentist may start with a dental X-ray depending on the symptoms to determine whether the infection has spread to other areas or not. Dentists will usually treat a tooth abscess by draining it and getting rid of the infection. In some cases, the tooth may need to be pulled if the dentist couldn't save your tooth with a root canal treatment. If the infection has already spread around the abscessed tooth or if you have a compromised immune system, you might need an oral antibiotics prescription to help clear the infection ².

How to prevent dental abscess?

Having a good oral hygiene routine and avoiding tooth decay is essential in preventing dental

Here are some methods you can follow to prevent dental abscess:

  1. Use a fluoride toothpaste and brush your teeth twice a day.
  2. Replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months
  3. Eat healthy and avoid sugary, starchy and sticky foods
  4. Schedule regular visits to your doctor for dental checkups and professional cleaning.
  5. Use a fluoride or antiseptic mouthwash regularly ³

With up to 7x greater fluoride uptake* than leading brands for strong teeth, LISTERINE  TOTAL CARE prevents cavities, restores enamel and builds stronger teeth than brushing alone.

*In Lab Studies